NEW YORK — The Red Sox finally looked like they cared Sunday night. Bobby Valentine was ejected for the third time this season when he (rightfully) argued that Will Middlebrooks was hit on the hand as Middlebrooks attempted to bunt a pitch from David Robertson in the top of the 10th. When Valentine came off the field and tossed his gum, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett argued from the dugout. Beckett was tossed — and wouldn’t it be something if that turned out to be Beckett’s final contribution to the ball club?
Inspired by this rare demonstration of passion, Middlebrooks followed with a single to left. The immortal Pedro Ciriaco popped an RBI single into right field to give the Red Sox a 3-2 victory. It was the second time in two days that Ciriaco delivered a game-winner after the Yankees fought back to a tie in the late innings.
Free at last. Ciriaco Magic is all the rage. The Sox are back to .500 after 102 games. And they are “in the hunt,” remember?
“We’re trying to win series, that’s the name of the game,’’ said Valentine. “We battled and I’m proud of these guys.’’
Regarding Ciriaco’s 120-foot bloop hit, Valentine said, “We’ll take some breaks. We need ’em.’’
ESPN was in the Bronx for the “showdown” between the first-place Yankees and the last-place Red Sox. When the erstwhile rivals come back to 161st Street in three weeks, the worldwide leader will be back. And we’ll probably still be hearing more patter that the Sox are “still in it.’’
With the nonwaiver trading deadline coming Tuesday afternoon, the Sox claim they are still thinking about making a move.
“I don’t think ownership and the front office is thinking anything other than we’ve got a shot,’’ Valentine said before the Sox won the rubber game of the series. (Bobby V also said, “I think we need a better press corps. That would probably help the mental state of our group.’’)
This much is certain: If you are a Red Sox fan, you don’t know who to root for when you scan the out-of-town games on the Green Monster. There were four American League games Sunday involving eight teams who are ahead of the Red Sox in the standings. Do you root for Baltimore over Oakland or the A’s over the Orioles? Somebody has to win. This is going to be a problem over the next two months if the Sox “stay in it.’’ The math doesn’t work. All those teams cannot lose every day because they are playing one another.
And please remember that the one-game bake-off is not really the playoffs. It’s a play-in game. Are you supposed to mortgage your future this week for the right to fly to Anaheim for a nine-inning shot against Jered Weaver?
Something tells me that methodical Ben Cherington might be a little slow-moving for win-now Larry Lucchino, but this is not 2004 when the Sox had to trade Nomar Garciaparra to shore up their defense and rid themselves of bad karma. This might be one of those times when the best deal really is no deal.
Unless, of course, they can trade Beckett. Shipping the stubborn Texan out of town would not constitute “giving up” or acknowledging that this is a bridge year. Rather, it would tell the fans that the Sox are serious about changing the curious entitled culture that exists in a room full of guys who have not won a playoff game since 2008 and have not qualified for the tournament the last two seasons.
But it’s almost impossible to deal Beckett and you won’t get much. He makes $17 million and he has veto power.
Beckett is slated to start at Fenway Tuesday night with Justin Verlander toeing the slab for the Tigers (another team ahead of the Sox in the wild-card standings).
“I don’t know how this [Sunday’s win] does anything for tomorrow,’’ said Valentine. “We’re playing a tough team. But I like the way our guys are playing.’’
The Sox are 8-8 since getting the “varsity” back at the All-Star break. The Saturday-Sunday wins represented the Sox’ first consecutive road wins since June 16-17 at Wrigley Field. They are not playing particularly good baseball and they have a better record than only four of the American League’s 14 teams.
But they just won a couple of gut-check games in New York and now they are coming home for 10 games and they want you to think that they can still salvage this horrible season.